Paradise Found in Magic Town of Bacalar

From Cancun all the way south along the coastline, passing Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Sian Kaan, and down to Mahahual, the Mexican Caribbean coast has dazzling shades of blue waters, fine sand, and over 345km of beachfront to find the perfect tropical escape. On my latest travels through Mexico, I found my perfect paradise at a Mexico Beach rentals in Bacalar.

bacalar panoramic

Over the years dedicated to traveling Mexico as much as I can, I have covered most of the Mexican-Caribbean coast, from Cancun to Tulum and even the surrounding islands of Holbox, Mujeres, and Cozumel. My visits here were usually crossing off the “must sees” down typical tourist tracks… but on my last trip I was searching for a truly unordinary escape, yearning for those idyllic shades of blue waters but somewhere far away from mega-resorts and overpriced bo-ho huts.  What I found was the paradise of Bacalar.

About four to five hours from Cancun, Bacalar is a small village just a bit inland from the ocean’s coast.  It is a Magic Town (my favorites places in Mexico!) and known for its large freshwater lagoons that display an impressive kaleidoscope of blue shades…. hint the nickname “Lagoon of Seven Colors”. It is just outside the Riviera Maya region and nearly borders the neighboring country of Belize.

In Bacalar, visitors will find basic infrastructure and a city center spanning just a few blocks. Artisan shops, small supermarkets, and enough restaurants to provide variety make the town very cozy.  The lagoon’s coast is dotted with palapa-hutted hotels and private homes for rent with dreamy, picturesque views of wooden swings overlooking the ocean and sun-dreched hammocks strewn across decks.  My favorite part of Bacalar is that the cool breezes on the lagoon create ideal sailing conditions, a popular activity for visitors, and perfect way to discover the hidden treasures waiting to be discovered, including the great Cenote Azul.

With a intriguing history of Mayans, Spanish, and pirates I do believe the Magic Town of Bacalar is indeed meaningful to Mexico’s heritage and culture. On my next trip to Mexico’s southern Caribbean coast, I plan on combining Bacalar with a few days in Sian Kaan, a protected Biosphere Reseve with virgin beaches and nearly no development besides one or two hotels and grand, private homes to rent for the week.

If planning to visit this area, the best best is to find a Mexico beach rental. With limited infrastructed, it is very important to find a private rental with all services included (staff, meals, etc) so you can feel comfrotable during your stay. After knowing and traveling almost all of Mexico, this is one, true unspoiled beach destination where you can truly just relax.

B A C A L A R 💙

A photo posted by Jessica Seba (@mexicanatheartj) on

Huamantlada, My Favorite (Really) Mexican Festival

It’s here! It’s here! August is my most favorite month of the year! Why? I travel to Tlaxcala for La Humantlada and running of the bulls!

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Parade in Huamantla, Tlaxcala

Last year (2012) was the first time I visited Tlaxcala’s tiny Magic Town called Huamantla during  their biggest fair, La Feria – Humantlada. The fair, mostly known for the weekend in which they have a running of the bulls, is actually a month long celebration dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There are two huge events held during this period attracting over 300,000 visitors.

The first main event is La Noche Que Nadie Durme when the townspeople create crazy-beautiful art in the street with sand and sawdust called tapetes (rugs). This tradition is the most emblematic of Huamantla. It always starts on August 14 when the majority of the streets are closed in anticipation for the  bulls. With the streets closed,  the community is able to start the creation of their sawdust tapetes that covers about 6.5 kms. They all must finish by midnight because that is when the party and pilgrimage of Virgin de la Asuncion begins (better known to the Huamntlecos as Virgen de la Caridad).  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness this event since it took place during the week.. but eventually it will fall on the weekend, and I am super excited to see it.

The second main event is the actual bull run, called Huamantlada, and a tradition that has been going on for over 50 years! It takes place the Saturday following La Noche Que Nadie Duerme. The main streets of the town are barricaded off (called burladeros) and are filled with locals and visitors pumped with adrenaline (and tequila!) to confront the bulls. La Huamantlada isn’t just a running of the bulls, it has a full program around it; charreadas, parade of matadors burladeros, classic car racing, a traditional carnival (rides andgreasyfood!), art exhibitons, musical performances and more will keep you busy during La Humantlada.

My boyfriend Eddy had been going to the fair for years and was excited to include me along in his tradition. He pretty much explained it to me as a super-Mexican version of Spain’s running with the bulls and the only bull running that still exists in Mexico today. I had no idea what to expect.

Okay, I lied, I had tequila and banda music and Mexicans all over the place in my mind, and surprise, surprise, when we got there, my stereotypical vision was actually true; a sea of Mexicans, leather boots, tequila, pinatas, cuaguamas (40 oz beers) filled the streets! The most Mexican of it all was the burladeros, the seating and wood-fencing that lined the streets to “protect” people from the bulls. It was set-up in the most creative and most Mexican ways you can imagine — not coming close to any safety standards or codes– I loved it. We wandered around  and tried to find some bleachers where we could watch the releasing of the bulls from above. It’s tough- I sincerely recommend securing a spot for yourself early as it fills up quickly. See the chaos below!

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huamantlada-nutshell

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At 12 noon sharp, the town releases about 20 bulls. The brave are still standing in the streets, waiting for the bulls to make its round so they have a chance to touch them, or slap them, or waving their red capes to test their skills at matador-ing.  Besides the excitement of the bulls that lasts about 5 hours, the parade and charreada are also super fun. The parade, which happens the night before the bulls, is amazing, colorful, and instead of passing out candy, they literally pass out shots of tequila (I LOVE Mexico!).

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I had so much fun at La Feria de Huamantla, that in anticipation for 2013 Humantlada, I  bought my very own leather rodeo boots! Bring it on, toros! This year’s Huamantlada takes place August 17.  For more information on Huamantla, click here. For information about the fair, visit laferiahuamantla.com.

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Monarch Butterflies in Piedra Herrada

Mexico’s migrating monarch mutterflies is a miraculous event that happens not only in Michoacán, but just outside Valle de Bravo in Estado de Mexico too! A visit to the Monarch  Butterfly Sanctuaries of Mexico should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Monarcas Mariposas everywhere

The migration of the monarch butterfly is something that I have been wanting to see for a long time; and for some reason, I thought the only place to witness the phenomenon was in the State of Michoacán.  After some planning to check it off my travel list this winter, I realized there was a  Santuario Mariposa Monarca (Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary) at Piedra Herrada near Valle de Bravo, only about an hour drive away from where we live in Mexico City!

There are actually several Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves in Mexico, all designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In case you don’t know, the reason the monarch migration is so spectacular is because between late October-ish and March, millions of these butterflies come to Mexico every year from Canada– and it’s not the one, same butterfly that makes the roundtrip– it is a span of four generations! The first three generations only live weeks, and the last generation (which is the one that is in Mexico) sustain six+ months. No one is sure how the last generation of butterflies know the way to navigate to the exact same place every year, but they somehow make it! You can read more about it here.

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Tequileros Making Tequila in Tequila, Jalisco

Headed to the Magical Town of Tequila? It’s a very informational and fascinating town especially if you visit one of the many tequila factories. I myself learned lots on a Jose Cuervo Factory Tour!

Tequilero

What comes to mind when I say “tequila”? Or actually, what type of face do you make when someone says “tequila”? I bet you’re doing it right now! If your reactions are not of beauty and fascination, you have some learning to do about Tequila. Tequila is more than a Jose Cuervo that burns your throat, it’s a beautiful town and landscape in Mexico.

I don’t know what it was like back in the day, but apparently the drink has been gaining popularity (45% consumption increase in  past 5 years) which is  no wonder why now all the rappers “got patron in they cup”…  People usually have a love/hate relationship with tequila but recently, its origin  have been gaining appreciation.  Tequila, Jalisco is the birthplace of the most representative beverage in Mexico is the proud producer of the worldwide spirit that bears its name.  ABC, MSNBC, and USA Today  all ran an article about this small town in Jalisco, Mexico – just outside Guadalajara. Living in Puerto Vallarta, Tequila was only about 4 hours away from me, so Eddy and I decided to rent a car and go see what the hype was about.


This  Magic Town sits against the Tequila Volcano which overlooks the valley encompassed by endless landscape of perfectly lined of blue agave plants. Built around Tequila’s main square of beautiful fountains and fresh flowers are the distilleries of popular producers such as Sauza and Jose Cuervo.  Despite being the “Disneyland” version, Eddy and I decided to tour the Jose Cuervo factory. The tour slots for the next 2 hours were full so we were scheduled for late afternoon and in the mean time decided to stroll around the zocalo.

Starting off with a visit to the 17th Century stone Santiago Apostol Church  we then hit all the ‘highlights’ listed on the map I picked up from the Tourist Info Kisok. The town was cute, however I think the true highlight was eating a juicy Torta Ahogadas (pork sandwiches drowned in a spicy red sauce – famous to the Guadalajara region) and sipping on nothing other than some tequila.

When it came time for us to head over to Mundo Cuervo, we were ready! Let me start by saying that what many people do not know is that tequila is not something that should be taken as a shot; rather it should be treated as a fine wine, acknowledging the various aromas and savoring ever nuance in flavor. Appreciating the smells and tastes of the actual liquid is one thing, but a true appreciation of Tequila comes from seeing the process of its creation from start to finish. In a small VIP group, we visited fertile agave fields, wandered through picturesque courtyards of the hacienda and toured the actual production factory. With the largest distillery in Latin America, the Cuervo brand started distilling a private tequila called ‘Reserva de la Familia’, reserved only for the Cuervo family. As time went by, they decided to share a very limited amount which is exclusively made in Mundo Cuervo, housing only barrels of Reserva during a specific season. I was able to try a very small sample of this limited edition tequila, and not exaggerating, it was one of the best Tequila Anejo’s I had ever tasted. No joke.

At the end of the tour, we learned how to distinguish quality tequila – much like you can distinguish a fine wine. One way is to swivel the tequila around in a glass and notice if any drops stick and form along the glass, the more droplets that adhere to the glass, the better the tequila. The other way, which I found most fascinating, is that Tequila has three very distinct scents depending on which part you smell.  Starting at the bottom portion of your glass, this is the scent where you appreciate the key ingredient, the aged agave plant, distinguished by its pungent scent of alcohol. Moving up to the middle portion, it is differentiated by a sweet fruity floral smell, much less harsh than the fragrance at the bottom. Reaching the top one-third portion of your glass, the aroma changes from a nice spring day to a warm cozy fire, emitting a rich wood smell due to the aging process in the barrels. Detecting and savoring each scent and learning about the long process and stages it makes to produce tequila, I developed a strong appreciation and understanding of the intricate process.

After a 3 hour tour around the facilities and numerous taste testing and margaritas (complements of the tour), I headed to the National Tequila Museum where, through its collections, I gained an even deeper understanding regarding the cultural values of the tequila region, which I learned was recently declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

 

Reflecting on our day trip, I learned more about Tequila then I ever thought imaginable, both the drink and the town. Both are unique and representative of the country in which they reside. Having only spent a day in Tequila, there’s still more to discover. The town has many other “tourist friendly” facilities and tours, including the infamous Tequila Express train ride and the giant tequila bottle-bus city tour – which are on my list next time!

 

Aguas Termales Hotels — Chignahuapan and Comanjilla

 Aguas termales hotels in Mexico are few and far between but I was able to enjoy the warm spring waters at hotels in Puebla and Guanajuato. If you are looking for a hotel in Leon or a hotel in Silao, Hotel Mision Comanjilla is a great option. 

Pools filled with mineral rich hot spring water

Chignahuapan and Comanjilla, aren’t those fun to say? I recently had the chance to visit both of these cities and was in for a surprise as I experienced for the first time aguas termales (thermal waters). Thermal waters a.k.a. hot springs are produced by the spouting of geothermally heated groundwater from the Earth’s crust and because they are saturated with an abundance of minerals, it is believed that they have therapeutic and rehab powers. According to Wikipedia, Mexico only has a handful of these aguas termales and the ones I visited had awesome hotels and swimming facilities incorporated into them! So let me break down for you the two properties and why I think they deserve a visit! [Read more…]

Weekend in Valle de Bravo

 Wondering what are the highlights, hidden local spots, and what to do in Valle de Bravo? I followed my guide and it led me to beautiful scenery, great panoramic views, and delicious local restaurants! 

This year, the magazine México Desconocido, published their 54 Pueblos Magicos 2012 Edition – the bible that highlights the “magical” experiences these towns have to offer. With inspiration in my hand and only 11 marked off the list, my next venture became Valle de Bravo.

Located in the State of Mexico, Valle de Bravo is about 100 miles from Mexico City. Deciding not to take the scenic route, Eddy and I sped through the highway tolls and made it to Valle de Bravo in just over an hour. As we arrived through the ‘Welcome’ arches, a full rainbow and peeking sun greeted us soon after an abrupt rainfall. Feeling like we just entered a live fairy-tale, the ‘magic’ of this place was definitely showing it’s colors! [Read more…]

Planning A Trip To Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns)

Searching for accommodations in Mexico’s most smallest and interesting towns is quite hard to do using the internet. After plenty of experience –and last minute panic — I’ve developed a system to find not only plenty of hotel options via the net, but also an abundance of information to ensure your trip is a ‘magical’ experience.

Finding hotels in towns like this isn’t impossible

It is no secret that I love visiting the small, traditional towns throughout Mexico. When Mexico Desconocido came out with the 2012 edition of the Pueblos Magicos book,  I grabbed myself three copies! It included the complete guide to Mexico’s 54 Magic Towns… they hadn’t published one since 2007 when there were only 35! Those guides are my bible to discovering Mexico. It highlights on-and-off the path things to do, see, eat and experience. While the guides are spot on and have made each of my trips fantastical, there is one thing that it lacks – complete hotel information.

For almost all 12 of the Magic Towns (MT) I have visited, I have found it quite hard (near impossible) to find any hotel information online. Unfortunately, these small pueblos in Mexico still aren’t up with the times (but that’s what makes them charming, right?) and don’t really care to provide any online information. And Trip Advisor? Psh, forget it! So, I’m going to give you some advice on how to hunt out hotel information for small towns in Mexico. My best advice is think outside of the box; when your Google search with “Hotels in Mexico Magic Town” comes up useless, don’t give up!

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Huasteca Potosina and Xilitla

My most favorite places in Mexico are in the Huasteca region of San Luis Potosí.  Skeptical of what would be there and wondering how to get to Xilitla, I soon discovered it truly is a surrealists dream set in the jungle.

Hands reaching out of the Earth

In 2011, the town of Xilita was named a Pueblo Magico, or Magic Town, in the state of San Luis Potosi. Xilitla forms part of the Huasteca Potosina region along with  Ciudad Valles,  El Pozo de las Golondrinas, Tamúl, Tamasopo, Consuelo and Taninul. In case that makes no sense to you,‘Huasteca’ refers to the northeast part of Mexico (compromising of some of the states around the Pánuco River) and home to the indigenous Huastec people and speakers of the Huasteca Nahuatl dialect. ‘Potosina’ refers to the state, San Luis Potosí. [Read more…]

Dolores Hidalgo, an Air of Freedom

Dolores Hidalgo, the city named the Cradle of Mexican Independence, is a Magic Town often passed by on the road between Guanajuato to San Miguel Allende. Full of flavor and charm, this colonial town in Mexico should not be missed.

Dolores Hidalgo; the famous balcony

Recently I took a trip to Guanajuato City and San Miguel Allende, two of Mexico’s most beautiful colonial cities recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in the state of Guanajuato. Only an hour drive apart from each other, I knew these cities to be very popular for both Mexican and American travelers alike. While I found them to be both enchanting and beautiful with their majestic architecture and spectacular atmosphere,  I found something even more impressive that lies between them; Dolores Hidalgo, another colonial town and the birthplace of Mexico’s Independence. [Read more…]

Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo

Huasca de Ocampo is one of my most favorite visited towns in Mexico. With picture perfect landscapes full of history and beauty, it more than deserves it’s title as a  “Magic Town”

Ex-Hacienda Santa Maria Regla

My final year at university, I took 6 trips to Mexico; I had a case of senioritis with no desire for a cure! One of my most memorable trips was visiting two of the ‘Pueblos Magicos’ in the State of Hidalgo. A short weekend’s trip from Mexico City, Eddy and I headed a couple hours north to Pachuca via ADO bus.  The plan was to start in Huasca de Ocampo and  make our way down to Real del Monte.

Huasca de Ocampo is a small town situated at a high altitude with landscapes of plains and mountain ranges, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. The town was founded sometime around 1770, by Pedro Romero de Terreros,  a Spanish count who at one point was the richest man in the world. He built haciendas in the area, benefiting from the nearby deposits of silver and other metals. Huasca de Ocampo’s discoveries are best found by traveling on foot and I promise you won’t be disappointed with the history and beauty this town holds. [Read more…]